Internships: Unpaid vs. Paid

Written by Hannah Steffensen

As students edge closer and closer to completing their degree, they are faced with the dilemma of undertaking internships. For many, getting an internship means cutting back on paid working hours and sacrificing time that could be spent on hobbies, work and even study. Internships are an important opportunity that all students in the media and communications disciplines should consider. They are not only crucial for gaining professional experience but are a great way to build connections and help you stand out against competition. The question is: Should you undertake an unpaid or paid internship?

Unpaid work experience is a voluntary placement. You are there as a student to observe the inner-workings of the company. As such, you are not an employee and therefore, will not be paid or receive any employee benefits (other than the experience and skills that you gain throughout the internship). If you really need a job that pays, then you can focus on finding a paid internship or non-internship experience. However, if you have the resources to support yourself, an unpaid internship can offer perks that a paid internship will not. Many smaller companies don’t have the budget to pay interns, but sometimes can offer a lot more hands-on experience than larger companies. The key is to find out what opportunities and experience each company can provide you with and how that will put you on the correct career path.

Companies seek interns who are motivated and enthusiastic. They are usually just as excited to be working with you as you are with them and genuinely want to help you achieve your goals. The first thing to do when deciding what type of internship to pursue is to determine what is important to you: Are you trying to gain experience? Are you looking to replace a class? Or, do you need money for the Summer holidays? One of the perks of an unpaid internship, particularly one that you have coordinated yourself, is that there will be much more flexibility in your schedule and hours. You have the opportunity to present how many hours you can fit into your internship according to your current schedule and workload. Whereas, paid interns have to meet the company’s requirements and obligations, and therefore are required to work fixed office hours.

The workload can vary greatly between paid and unpaid internships. It is generally assumed that paid interns have to do general office tasks and unpaid interns are treated more like students. Being an unpaid intern, you may feel more comfortable saying “no” to a task that isn’t related to your studies and learning. Whereas, paid interns will be required to undertake all tasks. One of the best things about both paid and unpaid internships is that they can lead to a full-time position within the company. In fact, the hope of gaining a full-time position after an internship is one of the most common reasons that students consider unpaid internships in the first place. Another reason students consider unpaid internships is that they can use the internship as academic credit towards a unit within their degree.

Grappling between the paid vs. unpaid internship question can be stressful. However, the best internship will ultimately be the one that gives you the most experience and professional advancement in your career. Undertaking an internship is one of the most important decisions during the completion of a university degree. Therefore, having as much information as possible will ensure you pick the right one. Always consider the academic and career benefits before you consider the pay of an internship, as you may be able to supplement your internship with a part-time job. The perfect internship is worth the extra time, work and effort for your future career.

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